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A Tale of Two Cities (1917)

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Alcoholic lawyer Sydney Carton travels to Paris during the Reign of Terror to rescue French aristocrat Charles Darnay, husband of the woman he loves.



(novel), (scenario), 1 more credit »
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Credited cast:
William Farnum ...
Charles Clary ...
Herschel Mayall ...
Rosita Marstini ...
Josef Swickard ...
Ralph Lewis ...
William Clifford ...
Marc Robbins ...
Olive White ...
Willard Louis ...
Harry De Vere ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
James Morrison ...
Undetermined Role


Charles Darnay is the nephew of the Marquis St. Evremonde in pre-Revolutionary France, but disagrees with the French feudal system and emigrates to England, where he is falsely accuses him of being a spy. He is found innocent through the skill of Sydney Carton, an alcoholic English barrister. Darnay is supported by beautiful Lucy Manette, whom he met on the trip across the Channel, and her father, Doctor Manette, a victim of the aristocracy unjustly imprisoned for many years in the Bastille. Carton falls in love with Lucy, but she loves Darnay and subsequently marries him. Carton's love remains unrequited, but it propels him to sobriety. After Darnay is tricked into returning to France during the Reign of Terror and subsequently sentenced to death by a revolutionary tribunal, it falls to Carton to save his romantic rival's life. Written by

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Drama | History | Romance | War




Release Date:

11 March 1917 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Historia en dos ciudades  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Film debut of James Morrison. See more »

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User Reviews

The Supreme Sacrifice
7 February 2015 | by (Kissimmee, Florida) – See all my reviews

A TALE OF TWO CITIES (Fox, 1917), directed by Frank Lloyd, marks the second Hollywood screen adaptation to the classic literary novel by Charles Dickens. Filmed earlier in 1911 starring Maurice Costello in the central character role of both Sydney Carton and his look-a-like double, Charles Darnay, an interesting aspect to the original was that the Dickens story was told in a little under thirty minutes. While it wouldn't take that long to read the complete novel, this second retelling in present form is a bit longer, around 81 minutes, yet not enough time to capture everything the book had to offer into just one motion picture. The Carton and Darnay roles this time were played by William Farnum, a name not too well known in recent years, but definitely one of the top leading actors of his day, years before assuming character parts in countless talkies of the thirties and forties, mostly "B" westerns. While Farnum did have a genuine speaking voice for talkies, he had a fine versatility for the silent screen.

With the plot told through passages of inter-titles in the silent film tradition, the story surprisingly opens with "In Saint Antoine where the frowning walls of the Bastille reminded the people of the woes in the threatening days that preceded the French Revolution," rather than the expected, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." The two cities in this story are London and Paris, with Paris being the essence of the plot. Before the story gets underway, the characters are introduced: Jacque DeFarge (Herschel Mayall), the wine shop keeper of Saint Antoine; Madame DeFarge (Rosita Marstini), his wife, "who knits constantly like fate weaving a web of destiny;" Doctor Alexander Manette (Josef Swickard), the old master of Defarge who, for many years, has been imprisoned in the Bastille.( A flashback taken from his written diary explains the circumstances leading to his unjust imprisonment); Soho, London, the residential district consisting of Jarvis Lorry (Marc Robbins), manager of Tellson's, the leading French and English bank in London; Charles Darnay (William Farnum), one of the many French refugees in Soho and nephew of Marquis St. Evremonde (Charles Clary), one of the most detested aristocrats in France; Lucie (Jewel Carmen), Manette's daughter who believes her father dead, raised by Miss Pross (Olive White) and a ward of Mr. Lorry; and Roger Cly (Ralph Lewis), Darnay's servant. Though Darnay is sympathetic towards the oppressed poor in Paris, renouncing his uncle's inheritance, he's later arrested for treason, and acquitted in Old Bailey's Court by lawyer, Sydney Carlton (William Farnum), a lonely alcoholic barrister. With the rein of terror July 14, 1789, starting the French Revolution that sends the condemned to death on the guillotine, it would be one of the mentioned characters to make a supreme sacrifice to save another for its climax. Other characters in the story consist of Gabelle, agent of the Marquise estate (William Clifford); Lawyer C.J. Stryver (Willard Louis); Gaspard (Harry Devere); and a condemned girl (Florence Vidor).

With other screen adaptations to A TALE OF TWO CITIES retold and recaptured decades into the future, with one British made version in 1958 with Dirk Bogarde, the most famous of all is the two hour 1935 MGM epic starring Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton, with the support by a cast of thousands. Though a project such as this might have been done under notable director, D.W. Griffith, whose ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921) contained certain similarities to the Dickens novel, Frank Lloyd's direction for 1917 is quite impressive for its time. Fox Studios would follow this with another literary work, Victor Hugo's LES MISERABLES (1918) also featuring William Farnum. Sets and costumes for A TALE OF TWO CITIES capture the essence of 18th century Paris, and acting by it principal players are not as overdone nor primitive to what might be commonly expected from actors during that time. Take notice that one of the title cards misspells Carton's first name of Sydney to Sidney.

Unlike many movies of 1917, this edition of A TALE OF TWO CITIES fortunately survives intact. Though it seems unlikely to have ever been aired on public broadcast television or cable for that matter, it did get distribution to home video in 1997 through Critic's Choice Video with print from the Paul Killiam collection. Although the cardboard box lists music score composed by Philip Carli, the video, in fact, contains no scoring whatsoever. Even the print circulating on Youtube gets the silent treatment as well. Watching silent movies in mute condition can be the worst of times for anyone expecting either piano or organ scoring. For the best of times movie viewing, simply apply own instrumental recordings from either disc or from an all-music radio station to help with the proceedings in viewing a movie from the silent years. (***)

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